For Immediate Release
Contact: Mark Genovese, 518.782.9400, ext. 353
VALHALLA, Oct. 27, 2011 – A staggering 19% cut in the direct-care nursing workforce at Westchester Medical Center is simply too much for the remaining staff to cope with, according to the union that represents the medical center’s registered nurses.
“It’s alarming,” said Sandy Owen, RN, release time representative for the New York State Nurses Association. “RNs are already reporting that they’re working short staffed, and have been since the layoffs at the medical center in 2003 and 2004.” Staffing levels are an issue of concern because studies have linked positive patient outcomes to higher RN staffing.
Members of the Nurses Association will discuss the impact of the layoffs at a 1 p.m. news conference today in front of the medical center’s main building on the Grasslands Campus.
The Nurses Association received notice late Tuesday that the medical center is eliminating 250 RN positions. The vast majority, an estimated 139, will be nurses who work at the patients’ bedside. Other layoffs will affect direct-care providers such as nurse practitioners, clinicians, specialists, and positions that provide support, such as managers, supervisors, coordinators, and the entire Education Department of this Level 1 trauma teaching hospital.
“Why this is happening now is puzzling, at best,” said Sam Caquias, RN, local bargaining unit president. “These are not the worst of times for the medical center. It is doing well financially compared to most recent years. Even during its most financially troubled times, several years ago, it never eliminated positions that affect bedside care to this level. Westchester Medical Center faces the same dilemma as other healthcare facilities in New York state, yet others haven’t made cuts of such magnitude.”
Even in the nurses’ current contract negotiations, medical center management is aggressively seeking cuts to nurses’ benefits and wages, while refusing to commit to severe cuts in management salaries and benefits or discuss the millions spent over the years on outside contracts.
Nurses Association representatives were also told during recent negotiations that the medical center has rapidly increased its use of agency nurses. Although such temporary employees can provide valuable back-up help, relying on them so heavily violates the union’s collective bargaining agreement.
“Such transient employees lack the commitment to the community and our patients, especially during times of crisis,” said DeBorah Briston, RN, the local bargaining unit’s first vice president. “During Hurricane Irene, many agency nurses at the medical center canceled their shifts while Nurses Association members stayed by patients’ bedsides for three days straight. When back-up generators failed to function during a recent planned test, Nurses Association members provided life-saving care in total darkness with no power for life-sustaining equipment. During a recent flood from a broken pipe that closed three floors in the Children’s Hospital, Neonatal Intensive Care nurses shielded babies in their isolettes and were able to transfer over 20 babies out of an unsafe area in approximately 15 minutes.”
“Westchester Medical Center has the highest case mix index in the country, and is the only burn unit between New York City and the Canadian border,” said Jules Hatzel, RN, the local bargaining unit’s grievance chair. “It is also the only Level 1 trauma center between New York City and Albany, supporting patients from seven counties. Having committed, high quality, highly credible nurses at the bedside is vital to the survival of patients and to Westchester Medical Center.”
“These layoffs will severely impact the safety and delivery of quality care not only in Westchester, but for the entire Hudson Valley area,” she added. “This will not be ‘World Class Medicine.’”
The New York State Nurses Association is the voice for nursing in the Empire State. With more than 37,000 members, it is New York’s largest professional association and union for registered nurses. The association represents registered nurses, and some all-professional bargaining units, in New York and New Jersey. It supports nurses and nursing practice through education, research, legislative advocacy, and collective bargaining.
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